Representatives of environmental groups welcomed the increase to the carbon tax in British Columbia’s budget, but said the government needs to do more to address climate change, land use planning and building a sustainable economy.
Finance Minister Carole James, who had put the spending focus on housing and child care, said Wednesday the government has made a start on environmental measures in the budget and there will be more to come.
Tim Pearson, the communications director for the Sierra Club, said that while the attention to affordability was needed, the approach should be extended to the environment. “In the longer term, we have major affordability issues both for individual British Columbians and families, for businesses and communities and for all levels of government, in terms of the impacts we’re going to be seeing from climate change.”
Referring to an Auditor General’s report released last week that found the government needed to do more to mitigate the effects of climate change and to support adaptation, Pearson said, “What we see in this budget are small measures, whether it’s wildfire mitigation, or mining oversight, or clean energy type stuff. They’re good things to do, but it’s not enough.”
Ian Bruce, the David Suzuki Foundation’s director of science and policy, said raising the carbon tax is a great start and that the government needs to use the increased revenue from the tax to invest in clean energy and incentives for efficiency that will help mitigate climate change.
As announced in September, starting on April 1 the carbon tax will rise by $5 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions. It will be the first of four annual increases and will bring the price on carbon to $50 per tonne of emissions in 2021.
Bruce said he was disappointed the budget failed to take steps to make sure oil and gas company’s pay the carbon tax on methane emissions, citing research suggesting the emissions may be 2.5 times higher than industry and government report. Taxing them would give the government as much as $200 million more to invest in renewable energy, he said.
Torrance Coste, the Wilderness Committee’s Vancouver Island campaigner, said James never mentioned “forests” or “forestry” in her budget presentation. “I think is pretty reflective of the overall budget.”
With the province losing both forestry jobs and forests, there’s a need for bigger action than the “tinkering” that was included in the budget, Coste said. “[It made] little incremental additions, not the big bold spending increases that we need to see to really revitalize this sector and make it so forestry can be sustained beyond the next decade or two.”
He called for more focus on land-use planning and bigger spending to support transit and reduce carbon emissions. “We’re just not seeing the urgency of this crisis reflected.”
James said the government is just getting started, and investments in the environment will be in future budgets. “The minister of the environment has put in place the new climate action strategy team and really we need to give them time to do their work,” she said.
The team is looking at recommendations that the previous government ignored, James said. “They want to go through the process of reviewing that [work]. They want to make sure they’re putting a climate action strategy in place.” Part of that will include working with carbon intensive industries, she said.
There will also be attention to land use and protection, she said. “We’re taking action and there’s more to come,” she said. “I think it’s tough and I understand people’s impatience. There’s a lot to fix after 16 years, but let’s remember it’s been seven months.”
Sonia Furstenau, the MLA for Cowichan Valley and the Green Party’s environment critic, said the government needs a climate strategy that reinforces an economic vision that includes high-tech, renewable, sustainable jobs.
“Around climate and environment, what feels like it’s lacking is a vision of where we want to get to,” she said. “What we saw in the budget was a lack of that visionary piece.”
There are plenty of recommendations already available for how to move forward, but often governments opt instead for further study or consultation, she said. “That becomes an excuse for not taking action. We actually need to take action.”
Green Party MLA Adam Olsen, who represents Saanich North and the Islands, said the NDP’s commitment on the environment was key to gaining the Greens’ support to form government and it’s reasonable to give them some time.
“They’ve started to send signals,” he said. “The increase of the carbon tax is a good signal to send.”
It was understandable that the government chose to focus on housing and child care, Olsen said. “There some things that were at crisis levels, and we needed to deal with. They needed to address housing and make investments now, and those are long-term investments.”
Still, it’s important that the government get going on conservation as well as climate change mitigation, he said.
“We have to recognize there are limitations and government would be criticized one way or another. Can the environment wait longer? I don’t think so. I think we need to be stepping up our game on the environment piece.”